Before Victorians and other west coast residents start congratulating ourselves for producing fewer greenhouse gases per household than most other Canadians, we should pause to acknowledge that this environmental fame may be fleeting. Because if Premier Christy Clark gets her way, British Columbia is headed in the opposite direction.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia studied the greenhouse gas emissions from households in 17 cities across Canada. The study examined data about consumption of gas, electricity and natural gas and other social and environmental factors that affect energy use, such as weather, population density and family size.
The study showed that households in Montreal generated the least amount of greenhouse gases per year, primarily due to the dominance of hydroelectric power. Vancouver ranked second. Victoria was studied but could not be ranked because of missing data on the use of natural gas, but was assumed to be slightly better than Vancouver.
Based on current provincial policies, our time at the top won’t last long.
The Clark government’s energy policy (designed in 2003 by former premier Gordon Campbell) has bankrupted B.C. Hydro, which has forced our electric rates to soar by double-digit increases. High electric rates encourage people to burn more natural gas. We should be doing the opposite.
Meanwhile, Clark promotes expansion of the liquid natural gas (LNG) industry to export to countries that don’t need any more gas, and a $10 billion Site C dam project to produce more hydroelectric energy that British Columbians don’t need.
It should be obvious by now that the Site C dam will power the fracked natural gas and LNG industry that wants to sell power to foreign markets. The B.C. Liberals are selling this sham even though the global economic drivers — China, U.S. Germany — are furiously abandoning fossil fuels for clean technologies.
The Site C dam amounts to an obscene taxpayer subsidy for the fossil fuel industry.
And it doesn’t get much better in Ottawa. Despite his campaign promises and his grandstand at the world Paris climate conference, Prime Justin Trudeau seems to have lost his courage to lead Canada away from fossil fuels.
Last week, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans approved permits for the Site C dam. Before that, the Environment and Climate Change ministry ignored widespread opposition — from the City of West Vancouver, among others — and approved the Woodfibre LNG project in Squamish.
So much for the concept behind Trudeau statement that “governments grant permits, communities grant permission.”
And where is the influence of Canada’s first aboriginal Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould? The Site C dam would destroy traditional hunting and fishing grounds of the Treaty 8 First Nations along with fertile farmland and adversely affect wildlife and wetlands. Wilson-Raybould has said the Site C dam would violate treaty rights.
The Clark government’s support of the fossil fuel industry are clear. The Trudeau federal government’s position is just confusing.
So, before Victorians, Vancouverites, west coasters and other Canadians break out the champagne to celebrate how green we are, we should open our eyes to where our ‘liberal’ leaders are taking us.
BY MAINGON LOYS
A few days ago, the scientific world, Canada, the Comox Valley as a whole and Comox Valley Nature (CVN), in particular, lost a 5-foot 2-inch giant. Nobody is ever likely to replace Dr. Chris Pielou.
I knew her long before I came to the Comox Valley. I joined CVN largely because she was a member – what self-respecting scientist wouldn’t have. I was shocked and amazed that she was given so little recognition locally.
If I had to rate Canadian biologists or Canadian environmental scientists, I would have to say that she was perhaps Canada’s greatest contribution to our global understanding of the environment.
I knew Chris intimately (I choose that word carefully- and she laughed when I slyly told her that), because I, as many postgraduate biology students, had learnt multi-variate statistics from her classic book, “The interpretation of Ecological Data,” which is the a key work for any mathematical ecologist. In this, she towers above a David Suzuki, whom I also respect, but while he gives mere information, Chris gave us the tools to get the information, destroy corporate lies, as we are obligated to communicate.
Every serious biologist in Canada is a student of Dr. Pielou, and she deserved every bit of respect she claimed. Regrettably, few people in the Comox Valley understood how important, how brilliant she was and how much she deserved to be heard. And man, thank god she could roar.
She was an extremely important member of CVN, who worked tirelessly at the head of the group’s conversation committee, which for decades was CVN’s advocacy voice, taking on both local and provincial issues. In addition to being provincially well-known as the Chair of the Scientific Panel on Clayoquot Sound in 1991-1992, which led to Clayoquot Sound being designated as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, she had been an avid outspoken and a forceful environmental protester.
Her drive led to the creation of the Comox Lake Ecological Reserve, for which she was appointed the first voluntary warden.
Chris had a delightful lack of patience for fools and people she disdainfully referred to as “twits.” She hated presentations of “pretty pictures.” She demanded substance in everything and always met the highest environmental standards. And she had cause to demand high standards, because she always met them herself.
She was known world-wide as a pre-eminent bio-statistician. As a brilliant ecological mathematician she pioneered multivariate statistics, which is now the universal standard for ecological research.
After obtaining a PhD in mathematics, she went on to do a second PhD on mathematical ecology at The University of London, and went on to teach at Yale, Dalhousie and ultimately at Lethbridge University on a Canada Research Chair – which gave her a free hand.
She published widely, both professionally and as a consultant. Late in life she wrote a series of popular books for naturalists that endeavoured to make the wonder of science accessible to everybody, such as books on flora and fauna, and on popularized physics, such as, “The Energy of Nature” ( highly recommended).
This diminutive lady was not only a giant in the recognition of women’s equality in science, she was widely recognized internationally for her endeavours and merit, by the University of British Columbia which granted her yet another honorary PhD in 2001. Part of her 2001 address to UBC’s graduating class is worth quoting, if only because it encapsulates the quintessential Chris, and it is a belief I share:
“This may explain why so many people say, complacently, “Of course, I’m lousy at math but … ” and then go on to imply that their mental powers are perfect apart from this trivial defect. Well, it isn’t trivial – a person who blocks out math is a mental couch potato.”
Sharp as ever at 90, she once pointed out to me that most anti-environmentalists were dunces at math. One in particular who caused me grief at UBC and her grief on the Scientific Panel, was a forester who was a mathematical dullard and fraud, and she could prove it, he had failed her class.
Today, the world is poorer, and nature is diminished. CVN has lost a very great friend, leader and mentor and the naturalists’ and environmentalists’ community is greatly diminished internationally.
We owe it to Chris to perpetuate her environmental commitment, as she once said to me: “Fight every day, and have the math to prove it!”
And so we will, death be damned. I am sure she would appreciate that.
Maingon Loys, a retired biologist living in Merville, wrote this for his Facebook page. It’s reprinted here with his permission. You can read more about Dr. Chris Pileou here and here and here.
By Jennifer Sutherst
Project Watershed has filed a natural resource violation complaint with the province against the Town of Comox for the work they are undertaking along Lazo Road in the Point Holmes area.
The town has chosen to install rip-rap (large angular rocks) to address erosion taking place along the shoreline, and to make room for a three-meter wide shoreline trail. We believe this treatment will destroy an important remnant area of sensitive Coastal Sand Ecosystem and will be ineffective in the long-term.
Erosion-control structures such as bulkheads, seawalls and rip-rap, are known as hard armouring and have been shown to cause a loss of natural shoreline ecosystems, damage vital shoreline habitat and exacerbate erosion problems on adjacent properties.
Hard armouring amplifies the energetic forces of the waves that come into contact with it, whereas a natural, gradually sloping beach will absorb the energy of the waves.
You can read more about Comox shoreline erosion and its causes, and other concerns over the town’s rip-rap project at Cape Lazo here and here.
The accelerated erosion in the Point Holmes area is the result of a domino effect of hard armouring that started when the CVRD buried a sewer pipe beneath the Willemar Bluffs in the mid-1980s. This initial disturbance destabilized the natural processes of erosion and accretion from longshore currents and wind that shape the landforms such as spits, dunes, beaches and sand bars.
Local property owners began to experience erosion issues and successfully sued the CVRD for damages. In order to halt this erosion rip-rap was installed below the Willemar Bluffs. Soon after, other beaches began to erode and private property owners to the north of the bluffs began to lose shoreline. They in turn also began to install rip-rap to save their properties.
Now, the popular Cape Lazo/Point Holmes beach has started to suffer from erosion during more frequent and intense winter storms, a trend which is likely to continue as we experience the impacts of climate change.
Another consequence of this work being undertaken by the town is that the remaining natural dune vegetation in the area will be significantly reduced or lost due to the stabilizing effect of the rip-rap armouring. This will promote the establishment of shrubs and then trees over herbaceous dune plants. Species present at the site such as Silver Burweed and Beach Dunegrass will likely diminish in extent.
Given the high level of soil disturbance associated with the work, Scotch Broom and other invasive plants will likely become dominant in many places.
Rip-rap armouring of shorelines in our region also impacts the marine ecosystems. In particular, the beach areas shorten and become steeper which reduces the area available to beach spawning fishes (known as forage fish), and decreases the availability of forage fish to salmon, seabirds and other marine species.
The State of Washington recognizes that hard armoring destroys sensitive shorelines and has an incentive program to help landowners remove hard armouring and replace it with Green Shore projects.
Green Shore projects imitate natural systems and confer many benefits including: shoreline stability, improving the habitat for fish and other wildlife, improving access for swimming and other water activities, offer a more natural aesthetic, and can save a significant amount of money.
The Town of Comox has stated that they are using a blending of ‘Green Shore methods’ but no Green Shore project would include the installation of rip-rap along one of the last remaining sand dune areas in our region where the greatest amount of natural dune vegetation is located.
Based on the information that has been provided to Project Watershed, the Town of Comox does not currently have a permit to undertake this work on Crown land. We have made multiple requests to the provincial government to clarify whether or not they require such a permit, but have received no response to date.
We believe that permits and an adequate public review processes are required and in the interim we have filed a natural resource violation complaint against the town and the contractor undertaking the work. Extensive damage has already been done to the area since work started at the end of June.
This area is one of two locations in the entire Georgia Basin where wind-formed backshore dunes are known to occur, and the only place on Earth where Garry Oak – Shore Pine – Sand Dune communities occur.
Jennifer Sutherst is the estuary coordinator and staff biologist for Project Watershed. She wrote this article on behalf of the Project Watershed board of directors: Barbara Wellwood, Bill Heath (biologist), Bill Heidrick, Brian Storey, Dan Bowen, Don Castleden, Paul Horgen (biologist) and Tim Ennis (biologist).
By Judy Morrison
I attended the recent Town of Comox Open House where one of the featured topics was the Lazo Road shoreline. I have learned much since that date. I now know a lot more about shores and water and and their “systems.” I have also learned more about people, and most of that has been good.
And I learned something about accountability.
I learned that the Town of Comox, when they annexed the Lazo Road shoreline, were given ownership of the foreshore. They can develop or reconstruct it with no accountability to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations.
I learned that because the project is under 1,000 metres in length, the town is not accountable to the Ministry of Environment for the project’s design or the completed work.
I learned that Mayor Paul Ives seems to rule with an iron fist, and that when I am denied an opportunity to speak at a council meeting, no councillor or administrator disputes the decision. Neither council nor staff hold him accountable.
I learned that our Town Council isn’t accountable to its electorate. Under the guise of a road improvement, a major shoreline reconstruction can occur without accountability under the Municipal Government Act. Regardless of requests from me and a number of other Valley residents, council has not held a public hearing on the subject.
We elect councillors to make good decisions. But on the Lazo Road project, they failed to question the pre-packaged solution given to them by staff. Councillors should know that, “If you give an engineer a hammer, all they see is nails.” Mea culpa? No, lack of accountability. Each member of council can do the same research I did, and am still doing, to learn about the Comox environs.
I learned that town staff are not accountable to the council. Letters from the Comox Valley Land Trust and from other individuals were sent to town staff questioning the design for the Lazo Road shoreline project. It appears that those letters were never shared with council.
I was told via email in May 2015 that when the project drawings were done, “ … I [the town’s engineer] am thinking an open house of some sort may be beneficial to the locals in the area including Cape Lazo Recreation Association, so that the design can be discussed in detail with the design team to get a better understanding of the design and to answer any concerns/questions the residents may have.”
Would have been a good idea, but it didn’t happen. Accountability.
I am used to a municipal parks department that would jump at an opportunity to integrate any part of the Comox Valley shoreline into its parks system, in a natural state. To my knowledge, that was never suggested for the Lazo Road shoreline since its annexation into the Town of Comox in 2006. Accountability.
And we, the voters, aren’t innocent either. We are accountable for the Town Council we have in place right now. I guess we deserve them. But I also suspect that we have learned something, too.
Judy M. Morrison is a professional land surveyor. She lives on Lazo Road.
Second update: Work on the project resumed on Wednesday, June 29.
This article was updated at 10 a.m. after receiving information from the Town of Comox regarding the work stoppage.
Work stopped almost as soon as it began on the Cape Lazo shoreline stabilization project because the Town of Comox failed to get all the necessary permits. Workers started to dig a two-metre deep trench on Monday, June 20 and shut down operations late Thursday of the same week.
According to the town, the project received notice on Thursday, June 23 at approx. 4:55 p.m. to stop works ‘beyond the natural boundary’ until an appropriate permit was in place. As this limited general construction, staff elected to stop all works until the permit from Ministry of Forestry, Lands & Natural Resource Operations was obtained.
The town voluntarily stopped work above the natural boundary but the remainder, or the bulk of the project, was issued a Stop Work Order.
The town has now applied for permission to do what Mayor Paul Ives says is “a small portion of work to be done outside the road allowance.” The necessary permit also requires consultation with the K’omoks First Nations.
The town is attempting to slow the erosion of the large, vegetated back shore dune that comprises the Cape Lazo shoreline. It’s known as a Coastal Sand Ecosystem (CSE), and is part of the of the Quadra Sands glacial deposition that includes Willemar Bluffs, Goose Spit and the Tree Island complex.
The one segment of shoreline in the Comox area that still contains a remnant natural back shore dune is currently being destroyed by the Town of Comox, who have decided to armour that last remaining segment with rip rap.
According to Tim Ennis, executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, CSEs are rare in the Georgia Basin-Puget Sound-Salish Sea region.
“Erosion and redeposition of sand within an active dune complex is a common phenomenon on an annual cycle, but sand deposition is typically net-positive over the long term,” Ennis wrote in an email to members of the Land Trust and Project Watershed.
“Wind blown dunes are particularly rare in the Georgia Basin, with only two known occurrences of remnant, semi-stabilized dunes remaining extant: Savary Island and Cape Lazo (Point Holmes),” he said.
To many people, the accelerated erosion at Cape Lazo comes as no surprise. It stems back to a decision by the Comox Valley Regional District’s Sewer Commission in the mid-1980s to bury a sewer pipe beneath the Willemar Bluffs. That disturbed the shoreline, causing property owners to sue the CVRD, which resulted in the placement of rip rap (large, sharp-edge rocks) to slow the erosion.
But after the construction of the sewer pipe and placement of rip-rap below the Willemar Bluffs, other beaches began to erode. Homeowners to the north of the bluffs began to lose shoreline. So those residents installed rip-rap to save their property.
And that moved the accelerated erosion action further up the shoreline to the popular tourist beach at Cape Lazo/Point Holmes. Increasingly large chunks of land disappeared with more intense winter storms.
To fix that problem, the Town of Comox has chosen to spend about $1.6 million to add rip rap from where the homeowners stopped to just south of the Point Holmes boat launch.
Accelerated erosion of Comox Valley shorelines has only occurred where the CVRD buried sewer pipes or tried to remediate the effect of the pipes. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence.
“The one segment of shoreline in the Comox area that still contains a remnant natural back shore dune is currently being destroyed by the Town of Comox, who have decided to armour that last remaining segment with rip rap,” Ennis says.
The town had other options.
Judy Morrison, a former Alberta Land Surveyor with a Calgary engineering firm, and a Lazo Road resident, has advocated a soft shoreline restoration, as opposed to the hard stabilization project chosen by the town. She says a “green shore” would cost about $600,000 less and be more effective.
“The town’s solution means that the residents of the Comox Valley, as they walk
along this stretch of beach, are now going to see 640 metres of rip rap, instead of limited green growth,” she says.
Ennis says the town’s rip rap project “will likely function for only a short period of time,” due to the increasing severity and frequency of winter storms. A provincial report recommends flood construction levels of five metres or more for the east coast of Vancouver Island.
Based on experience, it’s possible the new rip-rap will shift erosion further up the shoreline, and may accelerate erosion of the bluffs at the end of the CFB Comox runway, which stand above the sewer outfall into the Strait of Georgia.
It’s also likely that the impacts of climate change on shorelines will eventually threaten the sewer pipe buried beneath the Cape Lazo beach, not far from where the town is digging.
Meanwhile, the rip rap project has stalled. Mayor Ives believes the missing permissions will be granted shortly. More will be known later this week.
I’m done with deer.
On any given day, small herds of deer eat their way through local neighborhoods. They wander onto busy streets and stop traffic, sometimes with fatal results. They damage property, threaten people and pets, pose health risks and attract dangerous animals.
We call them “urban” deer, perhaps to trick ourselves into thinking they belong in our environment. Kind of like metrosexuals.
Why do we put up with this? If any other creature roamed our city streets with such brazen disregard for human existence, the phones of pest exterminators would ring off the hook.
Aren’t deer just rats with longer legs and better PR? Not so, for some people who see deer as lovable woodland creatures, like Bambi, and out of this misguided fantasy decide to feed them.
But gardeners lose thousands of dollars worth of plants to the voraciously hungry deer, and spend thousands more on fencing and other methods to deter them. Seiffert’s Farm lost so many crops to foraging deer that they fenced off their entire farm, at great expense.
“We need to make it socially unacceptable — just like littering.”
Other communities have mounted a variety of counter-offensives to send the deer high-tailing it out of town. So what is the Comox Valley doing?
Representatives for both the Town of Comox and the Comox Valley Regional District say neither entity has a bylaw against feeding deer, and have no plan to reduce the Valley’s urban deer population.
A CVRD representative said the deer are a provincial problem, but the B.C. Conservation Service and the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Resource Operations deny it. There is a B.C. law against feeding dangerous animals, and deer don’t qualify. The province will only help reduce urban deer populations if local governments request their assistance.
Everyone knows, or should know, that it’s harmful to feed wild animals. So let’s urge Comox Valley municipalities to pass laws that prohibit feeding deer, as Parksville, Nanaimo, Oak Bay and other B.C. communities have done.
Even the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals opposes feeding wildlife. They say feeding makes habituated wildlife more susceptible to predators and traffic collisions.
“We need to make it socially unacceptable — just like littering,” said the BC SPCA chief scientific officer.
There are myriad reasons why the Comox Valley should reduce its deer population.
Deer attract dangerous animals. Deer make up about 95 percent of a cougar’s diet, and are lured into the urban area by the easy prey of unwary deer. The area conservation officer confirmed frequent cougar sightings in the Valley.
School District 71 occasionally issues warnings about cougar sightings. Many parents who fear cougar attacks in rural and semi-rural areas stay with their kids until they board the school bus.
Letting the deer population go unchecked raises the risk of spreading Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. While reported cases of Lyme disease are not as prevalent here as in the Lower Mainland and other areas, a high density of deer means more ticks and a greater risk.
Some B.C. communities are going beyond no-feeding bylaws to control their deer populations. Kimberly, a town of 10 square kilometers removed 200 deer in one cull. Cranbrook reduces its deer population by 20 to 25 annually.
A group of four Kootenay towns spent $100,000 to live-trap about 80 deer and relocated them to wilderness areas. But the experts we interviewed say this is a bad idea. Domesticated deer don’t survive long in an environment with more predators and less garden produce to snack on.
I only support culling wildlife as a method of last resort. But it would cost far less to cull the local deer population and donate the venison to Comox Valley food banks.
Whether to act, and how aggressively, depends on our community’s values. Is the current urban deer population socially acceptable? I join the chorus of those who say no.
But we’d better have this important policy debate. Because after we figure out how to manage the deer, there are about 80 gazillion feral bunnies hopping into our yards right behind them.